PBGH Panel on Obesity and Well-Being

My Story of Living with Obesity

Nikki TibbsI want to share my story of living with obesity. I have been overweight since long before I can even remember. When I look back at family photos of me as toddler, I see a little round faced girl in jeans with the legs rolled up to fit because my mom had to buy them big enough to fit my waist. My grandmother used to tell my mom that I would grow out of it when I lost my “baby fat.” By the time I was 7 years old and continued to be overweight, she told my mom and I that I was just “big boned.”

Difficult Teen Years

At 18, I weighed 330 pounds. As a teen, it was very difficult to be the biggest student in the entire school. I had tried numerous diets throughout my teenage years and was unable to lose any significant amount of weight. The summer I graduated high school, I decided that the likelihood of significant weight loss was very slim and I needed help. I was very fortunate that my family had health insurance that would cover gastric bypass which was pretty rare 20 years ago. After surgery, the weight loss was amazing, I lost 180 pounds in the first 6 months. I went on to college and graduated from nursing school in 2002.

Follow-up Care for a Chronic Disease

As time went on, I slowly regained some weight. A marriage and two children later, I had regained about 50 pounds. I joined Weight Watchers and increased my exercise. But I didn’t see much movement in the scale. I scheduled an appointment to see a bariatric surgeon for follow-up. The surgeon recommended that I seek care in a comprehensive weight management program.

It has been 7 years now that I have been under the care of providers certified in obesity medicine. With their help, I have been able to lose and maintain my weight.

A Daily Struggle

Living with obesity is a daily struggle – just as it would be for someone living with diabetes. Food is often the center of celebrations, cookouts, holidays, and family gatherings. I have to think about every meal and pre-plan everything to ensure that I am staying within my boundaries.

I usually prepare meals to take with me even when I travel. But this summer my family went on an extended vacation and it would have been too difficult to pack meals, so I did the best I could. I still managed to gain 5 pounds. My husband gained 10. A few days after we were back, my husband was back to his pre-vacation weight and it took me 5 weeks to lose 5 pounds.

I still have a BMI in the range of obesity by medical criteria and by social standards. But I have come a long way and I am proud of my accomplishments.

Insurance Gaps

My health insurance does not cover all of the cost associated with management of my obesity. But I am fortunate that I can afford the out of pocket expenses that are part of the prescribed treatment plan. Everyone is different and there is not one size to fit all. What is working for me may not work for someone else.

What I want you to take away from this is that obesity isn’t always about willpower or motivation. I think it’s important to recognize that just because someone has obesity, it doesn’t mean they chose it. Often, they do not have access to the right tools to help them fight the disease. I hope that by sharing my story, I can help others gain access to the options they need.

We are deeply grateful to Nikki Tibbs, who wrote today’s guest post and presented her story of living with obesity to a large group of Western Pennsylvania employers at the 20th Annual Symposium of the Pittsburgh Business Group on Health. She is a registered nurse, certified cardiac device specialist, and clinical supervisor in the Butler Health System. She lives in Collier, WV, with her husband and two children.

PBGH Panel on Obesity and Well-Being, photograph © Ted Kyle

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September 14, 2019

3 Responses to “My Story of Living with Obesity”

  1. September 14, 2019 at 9:15 am, Jens Olesen said:

    Dear Nikki – just a short note to thank you so very much for your story!!

    All the best

  2. September 14, 2019 at 5:24 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Thank you Ms. Tibbs. You are brave, stubborn, and express yourself beautifully

  3. September 16, 2019 at 6:48 pm, Valerie Lawrence said:

    Brava, Nikki!


    “Often, they do not have access to the right tools to help them fight the disease.”

    is SO true – especially because the variation is so great among what tools will work for any individual!

    I applaud your tenacity, your determination, and your courage! Thank you for sharing your story!